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  • Linda Becker

Group battles blackberry on Madison Valley trail

Updated: Sep 30, 2021

Want more information on what's going on in and around the neighborhood? Check out the Madison Park Time! This article was featured there last month.

The news of exceptional heat and rampant wildfires is filling our headlines these days, and maybe our nightmares each night. The terrible coincidence of these events along with drought adds to the growing awareness of just how serious climate change is, or, depending on your point of view, will be. All of these trees going up in smoke is so clearly the opposite of what the earth needs that it causes many of us to wonder: What can we do? Well, for one thing, plant more trees. A hearty group of volunteers, ages 5 to 75, has been doing just that by working to restore the native woods that used to cover Madison Valley. A project started in 1994, stewarded by Jerry Sussman and other members of the Community Council, volunteers began clearing ivy and blackberry (and junk) and then planting fir, cedars, salal, sword ferns and other natives.

This fall, when the rainy season gets started, we will plant more than 100 native evergreen trees and 500 understory plants, provided by the Green Seattle Partnership. The most difficult part of the restoration is removing those relentless invasive species to give the natives a chance to re-establish. This also requires improving the degraded soils by incorporating woody debris, which will allow the soil to sponge up rainwater.

All over Seattle we see tall trees smothered in ivy and clematis, but in some parts, the most challenging barrier to restoration is blackberry. Blackberry seems perfectly adapted to our climate and tolerant of terrible soil. All it needs is sun. Blackberry is hard to get rid of. Any serious gatherer of its delicious berries knows to wear long sleeves and preferably leather gloves when grappling with blackberry vines. To dig out blackberry, we have to get to the octopus-type central root that can be the size of a softball, with long shoots going off in all directions. The challenges to greenbelt restoration are many.

During this hot, dry summer, we are hand-watering everything that has been planted during the last two years. In two sections, the water is delivered by hose from neighbors’ houses. Elsewhere we have to carry 5-gallon jugs up the steep hills several times a week. Also, woodchips to improve the soil are needed everywhere and carried over hill and dale in 5-gallon buckets. And then where do we put all that pulled ivy, blackberry and clematis? A few of our neighbors allow us to stuff their yard waste bins, but mostly we have to build compost piles. That entails keeping the invaders off of the ground until they dry up and can be turned into forest duff. Some of our compost piles are the size of a small car. Happily, blackberry canes dry fairly quickly, and, as long as we rid them of their roots, they are harmless. Well, not harmless. They are still covered with thorns, so they are not easy to move around to make room for new native plants.

One recent innovation is the creation of blackberry cane wattles. Over time, these nifty bundles will decompose and add to the rebuilding of the soils, nurturing this small forest.

For more about the work in the Harrison Ridge Greenbelt, go to

— Linda Becker is the Harrison Ridge Greenbelt lead forest steward.

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